Here’s a question – why are we so reluctant to criticise our national teams?
It’s something that is curiously absent in the media in the main, aside that is from a couple of blokes with surnames starting with “R”.
When the All Blacks lose, it’s often written-off to “a fired-up Australia/South Africa/England” or “the unpredictable French”. Or as it was last year when going down to Argentina, most commentaries were on how great it was for the Pumas (which, if we’re honest it was) and not a lot on how much the AB’s stunk up the joint that day.
Or when the Blackcaps were whitewashed in Australia last summer, a fair bit was deflected by the patchwork nature of the team put out for the third match in Sydney.
The others – Black Sticks men, All Whites, Tall Blacks et al – all either don’t play often enough or capture enough of the national conscience for long enough to warrant any sort of in-depth analysis. Only the Kiwi’s seem to get singled out, though you’re left wondering if that’s a result of unrealistic expectations or inherent bias.
If anything, the strongest criticism gets reserved for the three teams competing in the Australian leagues. If the Phoenix, Warriors, or Breakers have a bad day they hear about it. Is it because they’re professional franchises who play far more regularly than the corresponding national teams and the media are more comfortable taking shots at them? Even with our Super Rugby sides the focus more often than not is on how the victor played, rather than the vanquished.
It gets more curious when it comes to our national women’s sides. Bar the Silver Ferns, who have long been the standard-bearer for female sports in this country, talking about a poor performance seemingly never happens. The Black Ferns are only ever challenged by England and occasionally France which makes it hard to judge when they have a bad day, while for the Black Sticks women, Football Ferns, and Tall Ferns well…. see above.
Which brings us to the White Ferns. Over the past fortnight, they’ve been comprehensively outplayed by the visiting English in both the 50 and 20-over formats, yet criticism about their performances (or lack of) has largely been absent. Is it just something we don’t talk about? And if it is that, why is it so?
(For what its worth, the major White Ferns issues were they simply didn’t bat or field well enough, there was too much reliance on Sophie Devine being Sophie Devine with the bat without Suzie Bates, and the balance of experience being lost with the absences of Bates and Lea Tahuhu)
Maybe it’s something deeper. Maybe we – as a sporting media and public – lack the maturity to critique a term’s performance through a negative lens without it turning into several shades of nastiness.
And if that’s the case, then that’s more the pity. Because we should be able to talk about the bad as well as the good.
Follow Scott on Twitter